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May, 2008



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Moo Town News
By Judy Borello

"Water, water everywhere"
Everyone wants clean water, right? So who wouldn't want to support legislation called the Clean Water Restoration Act? Be careful what you wish for!
Unfortunately, this harmless-sounding and misleadingly titled act is packed with dangerous implications for every backyard, ranch and farm in the country with any water on it. It will hurt property rights nationwide, curtail economic growth throughout the country, and reduce the legitimate power of state and local governments. According to one legal expert, this legislation "pushes the limits of federal power to an extreme not matched by any other law, probably in the history of this country." It has little to do with clean water and is mostly about land use control.

The Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA) is now making its way through U.S. House and Senate committees in the form of two bills - one called HR 2421 in the House and the other called S 1870 in the Senate. These bills seek to expand the Clean Water Act of 1972 beyond protecting wetlands and waterways by creating legislation that would regulate nearly every wet area in the nation - even if water were only present for a few days!

The CWRA would expand the Clean Water Act, which currently protects "navigable waterways," by deleting the word "navigable." This will increase the regulatory reach of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to cover "all intrastate waters." Essentially, the feds would regulate every wetland, slough, meadow, intermittent stream, prairie pothole, pond, playa lake, mudflat, sand flat, gutter and ditch! The law could be interpreted to include public streets, roads, shoulders and culverts.

It would also expand the Clean Water Act to include "all activities affecting these waters." So essentially, it would regulate you if you engage in any activities that might affect water. This would include all local conservation agencies that are involved with stream, creek, estuary and bay conservation and restoration.

For farmers and ranchers, the CWRA would be devastating. They'd be required to obtain federal permits in order to carry out their daily land management activities. This will greatly increase the cost and time of managing stock ponds, ditches, gutters, and possibly even groundwater.

The CWRA will even require federal permits for implementing conservation practices involving water, including those activities undertaken by local environmental organizations. This act does nothing to encourage participation in available conservation programs, and is counterproductive to any effort to improve the environment!

The CWRA will override the local control currently enjoyed by our county government over any planning or permitting decisions involving water, and replace it with federal control. In the Senate committee hearing in April on S 1870, an elected county engineer from Ohio spoke out against the CWRA on behalf of the National Association of Counties (NACo). He testified that NACo is concerned that the CWRA would "create significant bureaucratic obstacles and lead to increased costs to counties without enhancing environmental protections of waterways and wetlands." He went on to say that local planning and land use decisions designed to protect the health and welfare of its residents would be pre-empted by the CWRA. "There could be a limitless possibility of future federal permit processes required to do things such as construct a driveway or simply cross a swale on an individual's property," the NACo spokesman testified.

Now, readers of this column know that I don't always see eye to eye with Marin County leaders, but I would much rather deal with local bureaucrats who understand our community's concerns and who support viable agriculture in Marin, than have the Army Corps of Engineers and the feds breathing down my neck, watching my every move, and creating a huge drain on my tax dollars!

Unfortunately, so far the CWRA has broad support in Congress, largely because the underlying impacts are not obvious and not understood. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals are just now waking up to how dangerous these bills are. The Marin County Farm Bureau and the California Farm Bureau Federation, along with the presidents of many state farm bureaus across the country, have joined a host of other agriculture industry groups and local government advocates opposing these bills.

You can help, by learning more about these specious bills and then writing letters to Senator Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking them to vote NO on the Clean Water Restoration Act.

P.S. This bill is lethal! What burns me the most about the Clean Water Restoration Act is that it has nothing to do with clean water - in fact it will wash us all away! And it shifts the power from local to federal government. Good-bye to the rights of those in agriculture, of homeowners, of enviros, and of all of us who want a voice in our local politics.

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